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UC Riverside Students Win Odebrecht Award
Potentially Revolutionary Invention Created

A team of students from the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside, has invented a device that reportedly can significantly cut the emission levels of harmful pollutants from lawnmowers and other small engines. In the photo: the NOx-Out team receives the Odebrecht Award in Miami, and is joined by their adviser, Kawai Tam (left), and Reza Abbaschian (right), dean of the Bourns College of Engineering.
Photo courtesy of the University of California, Riverside

A device created by a group of students at the University of California, Riverside, could some day offer meaningful, sustained and long-term benefits to the environment.

Moreover, typical homeowners, landscape companies and large lawnmower manufacturers might some day be clamoring for this invention.

It's already put some money in the pockets of Alyssa Yan, Priyanka Singh and Anna Almario, their adviser and UC Riverside, all of whom have received an Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development -- along with a $43,000 case prize. The award was presented in October to the UC Riverside students in Miami.

The students are in the Bourns College of Engineering, and ran tests to support a claim that their invention cuts particulate matter emissions by 93 percent, carbon monoxide by 87 percent and nitrogen oxide by 67 percent.

"Reduction of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter would positively impact human health, and reduce environmental concerns such as smog formation and acid rain," the student team said in a UC Riverside press release.

Appropriately enough, the team calls itself NOx-Out. NOx is short for nitrogen oxide, one of the unhealthful emissions from gasoline-powered engines.

The device is made of stainless steel, shaped like a cylinder and replaces the muffler on lawnmowers. It can also be used on most other small engines such as generators.

In the simplest of terms, first, a filter captures the harmful pollutants. Then an ultra-fine spray of urea solution is dispersed into the exhaust stream. The urea spray primes the dirty air, and in the final stage, the unhealthful pollutants are turned into harmless gases and released into the air.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the students say, estimates that one car driven for 45 miles equals the amount of pollutants that spew out of a gas-powered lawn mower that is operated for one hour.

Kawai Tam, their adviser, and Reza Abbaschian, dean of the Bourns College of Engineering, accompanied the students to Miami for the award presentation. UC Riverside was one of the three finalists for the award; the others were from Duke University and the University of California, Berkeley.

"This win is a testament to our college's commitment to hands-on undergraduate research that can be applied in the real world," Abbaschian said. "With a single device, these students can significantly improve our air quality and have the potential to revolutionize an industry that has been around for more than 100 years."

In addition, the device reduces noise from the lawnmower and the smell of gasoline. It would sell for about $80, but the price could be lowered greatly if it were mass-produced.

UC Riverside officials say they believe their device can be successfully marketed to lawnmower manufacturers and homeowners, especially the owners and managers of landscape companies.

"To be recognized by prestigious industry leaders validates that our idea has innovative merit toward sustainability," Tam said. "Our team will be continuing efforts toward commercialization."

The Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development is granted to applicants that "demonstrate innovative technologies and business models for sustainable development." Awards are given to "projects that are environmentally sustainable, profitable, produce quantifiable results, and have the potential to be scaled up and replicated for broad applications."

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August 22, 2019, 1:14 am PDT

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